I was always a bit puzzled when I didn't get exactly what I wanted and tried my hardest to be extra good the next year and to be super detailed in my letter only to be disappointed year after year.
Now I know what you're thinking... getting what you want for Christmas is not what Christmas is about. As an adult, I completely understand that. However, as a child, when all you hear is "Be good so you get gifts", it's kind of difficult to think of anything else.
Sure, we went to Catholic Mass with my mom's family (is an 8-year old really going to pay attention?). And yes, we knew that Christmas was supposed to celebrate Jesus's birth. But, how does the idea of a man in a red suit watching you to make sure you're being good an accurate celebration of the nativity?
Don't get me wrong, I am NOT anti-Santa. I love the traditional idea behind Santa... the spirit of giving and generosity. However, it seems like it's been distorted into something that is more about getting children to behave at this crazy time of year rather than the joy of giving a gift to someone that may not otherwise get one. It's more bribery and threats than magic and making wishes come true.
Then there's a certain elf that's supposed to be watching to make sure your child is behaving when they themselves are causing all kinds of mischief... (but we won't get into that)
Now, I'm not saying that our Christmas traditions are perfect or even novel by any means. We go to church Christmas Eve. We have stocking by our fireplace and gifts under the tree. However, we have family traditions that have been in our family for generations and that have meaning behind them other than getting our children to behave. For example, one of my favorite traditions is our hide-the-pickle-ornament tradition. I have a beautiful hand-blown glass pickle ornament that I got from my parents and, on Christmas Eve, after our girls have gone to bed, we hid the ornament on the tree and, the first to find it, gets to open the first gift. It's a very old German tradition and, being half-German, it is one of my favorites.
Also, perhaps the best tradition we have in our house is to make a baby Jesus birthday cake on Christmas Eve. It's not a tradition that has been handed down for many generations but, because we had decided to not do Santa, we wanted something that, in our Christian household, would support the true meaning of Christmas. There are lots of ideas online for a Jesus birthday cake but we decided to combine a few that had great symbolism behind them.
We start out with a chocolate cake (representing our sin) and frost it with white frosting (representing how Jesus covered our sin by dying on the cross). Then, we have little angel figurines that we add for the angel that spoke to Joseph and for the angel that declared his birth. We also add a star to the cake for the star that guided the wise men. Then we put a few evergreen trees to symbolize his everlasting love. And finally, we add candles and light them because he is the light of our world.
Now, the cake has taken on various forms over the years because the girls like to get creative with their ideas. One year we did chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and frosted them as if they were a sheet cake and added our toppings. Another year we did a very traditional round two layer cake. Yet another year, we decided to use our cookie cutters to make angel, tree, and star cookies to frost and add to the tree. No matter what we do, we make sure the message is still there and we make sure the point of the activity is to remember that it is Jesus's birthday and not just an excuse to eat cake (although that is a bonus!).
Don't think that it has been easy by any means to skip Santa. Last year Noella begged to do Santa. And trust me, it was VERY tempting to give in because it can be very fun. However, we had our reasons for not doing it up until that point so we stuck to our guns. So, we asked her if she would believe a gift was from Santa if she found one from him under the tree. When she said "no" we explained that the point of Santa is the belief in the spirit of Christmas. Then we told her that, if she were to believe in something, we would rather her believe in God and Jesus who can gift you with everlasting life rather than Santa who would bring you toys. Then, once we reminded her that she wouldn't get any additional gifts if we did Santa, that we would only take a gift from us and label it "from Santa", she got the point.
Then the kicker came... We asked her to remember her last birthday and how she felt when everyone came over to celebrate with her. She said she loved it. Then we asked how she would feel if some of her friends forgot her birthday and decided to go to someone else's house just because they were going to give them a toy. She said she would be crushed. Then she got that "lightbulb" look in her eyes and she hasn't asked to do Santa again.
So yes, we do gifts, we do stockings, we do Christmas lights, but we also do Jesus, birthday cake, and faith! There may not be Santa here but we're OK with that!